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Exactly one week ago I had the great experience of attending this event in Annapolis, MD.  I know many of my contemporaries are as booked out as I am and so I wanted to post some of the things I walked away with.  I found the whole experience incredibly inspired.

Venus Theatre was gifted a grant from the Prince George’s County Arts Council last year.  I was able to meet Melanie Griffith who is our representative on the council.  Interesting, because we spent the morning prepping to make the case for arts funding and when I found myself in the room with Representative Griffith she seemed to be more articulate than I could ever be on the subject.

Her philosophy:  if we fill our childrens hands with all things expressive and artistic they will have no means or desire or time to pick up crack pipes and guns.

As a kid I grew up in the county.  Went to public schools there.  Was exposed to theatre there.  Because they offered the class.  Went on to be the Prez of the Drama club at PGCC where I learned to produce and direct.  Also, my family was somewhat influential a while back.  My grandfather gave land to build the Forestville Fire House.  And, after touring around and performing in various states, I must say being home is an incredible feeling!

We were advised to speak to the Economic Impact the Arts has on a community.  In 2009 for example, arts businesses generated 1.4 billion dollars and gave jobs to 12,000 people.

This came out to 41 million dollars collected in state income taxes.

Maryland is hoping to hold onto level funding.  Even though the numbers don’t go up, the fact that they don’t go down is considered growth in this economy.  The state hopes to give a level 13.3 million in arts funding this year.  They do this by taking 1/10 of 1 percent.  So, one penny on every ten dollars.  There’s also a chance that another million will be generated from the taxation on bingo machines.  But, that’s got to go through the general assembly first under something called the BRFA bill.

Then Eliot, a man largely responsible for the existence of Strathmore Hall spoke.  In all fairness, before he spoke he auctioned off a cartoon image of the President created by another speaker, DAR.  So, in about two minutes the man raised $400 for the arts.  Teaching me at least, that until you ask you’ll never get it.  It was a powerful and spontaneous demonstration.

His talking points when it comes to talking about one’s art org and the need for funding shone up on the wall as follows:

Compose your story

Be early

Have a fast start

Be respectful

Be grateful

No more than 3 talking points, 2 is better, 1 best in this economy

Listen well

Answer only what you know


Give yourself a clean getaway

This idea came up in the morning too, the Quarterback.  I’m not so good at sports so I may screw this metaphor up.  But, the Quarterback announces the important person at an important event.  But, you’re supposed to meet them off season so they can pay attention to you on season.

During lunch Bill Pensick spoke about the War of 1812 and the memorial being heavily funded by the state.  The history is very important and the memorial should be beautiful.

I only paid so much attention to his powerpoint presentation because the veggie meal provider slowly crashed into a phone pole on the way and we were all hopped up on chips and soda while awaiting an emergency pasta rescue.

In this powerpoint blur I believe I learned something about another Randall.  Aquila Randall gave his live on September 12, 1812 at the age of 24.  I wonder if there is a relation?  I love hearing about good Randall’s.  There are some treturous ones out there! If there is a connection this may explain away my leaning toward identifying Irish when there’s been no real evidence.  Anyway..

Sue Hess gave an award to E. Scott Johnson.  This was the main MCA event at the center of the day.  This was so moving.  Mr. Johnson, being a true advocate of the arts, made his speech about information and further advocacy with absolutely no sense of entitlement or being owed.  It was a beautiful moment.  He talked about Maryland Lawyers for Artists.  Being a full time lawyer, this was his baby and he still stays in touch with the organization.  He also talked about CAMM, Community Arts Alliance of Maryland.  Very gracious, arts loving people were everywhere!  About 400 of them.

Soonafter we went into break out sessions.  There were three.  And, I chose to attend something called, Connecting Cultural Organizations to the 21st Century Skills Movement.

We heard from Helen J. Wechsler, Sr. Programs Officer of  the Institue of Museum and Library Services Partnership for the 21st Century  She pointed out some really useful tools and the new ways of thinking that must happen in order to move us all forward.

Helen asked us to picture a five year old in our lives.  Then, she asked us to imagine them at the age of 20.  She asked what that world would look like.  Then, she said that we need to check in with our structures to see that we are setting everything up to land there.

“There’s a world ahead of us.  Kids need to be prepared.  How do we do that?”

Then, this man spoke who actually put my brain in proper order.  His name is Gary Vikan and he is the Executive Director of the Walters Art Gallery.  I was completely absorbed and I’ll try to reiterate what he was saying in some bullet points:

-Informal/Lifetime learning is increasingly critical (as opposed to formal institutions)

-When it comes to one’s business, ask yourself- is the above a part of the mission?

-Arts are not expendable, they are deeply necessary, this is a culture/value situation.

-The assets artists and arts org’s bring to the table are public assets

* quality of life * Strategic future of the United States *

-Advocate within your own tent.

Finally, Chris Woodside spoke.  He is a lobbyist for the arts.  I know.  I thought all lobbyist were evil arts hating starched suits.  Nay.  To sum up Chris’ experience of what is most effective:

We have to get the kids to the forefront.  If we don’t, if we insist on clinging to old ways of thinking and communicating the country will take a back slide.  There will be a gap and we will become an inferior place.  So, we need to pull children in at a young age and get them invested in their communities and the world.

All of the above is my paraphrasing from a week ago.  Apologies if I slipped anywhere.  But, this is what I walked away with,

And, you know, I felt really lucky.  To be able to create in a world that has a tendency to destroy is a great gift.


Following up with important dates:

Thursday March 3 – House Budget Hearing in Annapolis

Monday March 7 – Senate Budget Hearing in Annapolis

Monday and Tuesday April 4 and 5 – Washington, DC  Federal fight to keep NEA alive.

Be there if you can!




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